Red Lettering

Red Lettering and a new review of Black Shades

There’s been a new review of Black Shades, always a treat to writers when one of your books gets some attention even after it first comes out, and this is just the right time of year for the prequel, Red Lettering.

Red Lettering came out last year on Halloween. The story is really the first new work I did all last year, and it was a rush to get the story in to the deadline that was just a few days away from realizing the anthology call existed.

This is my Japanese-Canadian drag queen ghost story. Ren was one of the characters I’ve written that just started off on the page as a three-dimensional character. Considering he started off the story dead, several years before the book begins, it’s odd that he’s the character that the reader learns the most about. Yes, he had his issues. Yes, he thought attention came in finite quantities and more for anyone meant less for him, but he loved Colin with a fierceness that even as a drag queen he didn’t know he had. Colin had been so happy just living in the shadow of the bright and beautiful creature that Ren was that he wasn’t willing to even try to move on–until Ren makes a few arrangements ahead of schedule.

Peter, Colin’s love interest, isn’t Ren. He didn’t have Ren’s supportive parents and family and he grew up knowing he liked silky things despite the cost to him personally. He headed out west with his cousin to get away from his parents’ control only to tumble out of the frying pan into the fire in the lower east side of Vancouver. Getting up and out and moving up north to teach his first art class should have been the start of a whole new life, but by the time he meets Colin, he’s back working his last shift at a diner that’s attached to the hotel he’s been living in. Both are closing on Halloween at the end of the tourist season, leaving him jobless and homeless again.

For all the trash and riff-raff that Peter had gone home with just to have a bed, Colin’s obviously different. And not just because they both like Peter liking to control things in bed as much as he can. This time feels different. If they can both let go of the past, they might have something else to hold on to. And as much as I love the current love story, Ren isn’t one to be forgotten about.

Which is important, because he’s a main character in Black Shades. He plays all four ghosts in the Christmas Carol. (“You’re going to be visited by three ghosts. Spoiler alert: it’s me in four fabulous outfits.”) Colin needs to see the past, present if he wants to have any future with Colin, and Ren can’t help but nudge a few wrongs into the right while he’s at it.

You can always read the free prequel here: Ren’s grandfather had freed a selkie once, instead of stealing its pelt and making it serve him. When Ren needs a selkie, Finn hears the call.


Something Shiny in the Distance is in the top twenty!

Ren’s lover in Red Lettering thought he had Ren completely understood. Ren wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but for Colin, the shy main character in Red Lettering who can’t even urinate when there is someone else in the room and couldn’t talk dirty if a gun was pointed at him during sex, thought for sure he was going to be a boring old accountant like his father because he didn’t see any way out of his drab, ordinary life. He was a writer, and he narrated his life as best he could, but when a friend of a friend brought Ren over to fix his computer in the dorms, his entire life changed. Ren was that explosion of color that said what Colin wanted to say, did what Colin wanted to do, and saw the world the way Colin wanted to see it.

But Ren had to change as well. He took his job of being the life of the party very seriously. His flamboyant, bright shine he put on everything couldn’t fool himself. When he met Colin, though, his life changed as much as Colin’s had. Not giving more than a single fuck about anything couldn’t work when he had a person in his life he wanted to love and be loved by.

That he met Finn in his past was a given. He studied sea lions, Finn was a sea lion. But Finn also had the touch of immortality that all fae folk have. It’s one evening that entwined Finn and Ren’s lives, stories and bodies.

I love all my main characters, but Ren is extra special to me. I’m so happy to see that Something Shiny in the distance is currently #18 in the free paranormal erotica and #20 in the free gay erotica. Finn’s story continues in Coral were his Bones and next week in No Mortal Business and Ren’s story, such as it went, continues in Red Lettering.

Day Three of Loving my Protagonists: Colin and Peter (and Ren)

While I was writing my protagonist list, the book with Colin in it hadn’t sold yet and I worried I was going to jinx it. But Red Lettering and Black Shades have both sold to MLR and the third book White Canvas is coming out in the spring.

Writing a main character who is a writer is one of the three or four books writers have to write when they’re learning how to write. You have to write about the magic sword/Prince as a pauper/white talking horse story, you have to write the story set in second person, you have to write the getting away with a perfect murder story, and you have to write your main character being a writer. You don’t have to write all of them, and the magic sword can be swapped out for the Star Trek/Wars story with the serial numbers filed off for science fiction writers, but they’re like milestones of being a writer.

Colin was my first main character who was a novelist. I bent what I believe is possibly by having him be a writer supporting himself at 22 on his writing which is possible, it’s just not very likely. I started writing at eleven, when everyone else around me was “taking notes” I had my paper under my textbook, scribbling away. I was so afraid that people would realize that in note taking, quotation marks aren’t really necessary, but I didn’t quite realize at that age that no one really paid that much attention to what kids were doing, as long as they were doing it carefully.

In the first book Colin says in the narration:

He’d been a quiet observer of the universe, narrating his field notes to himself. Now his biggest seller was a series about a man who had all the emotional response of a turnip but liked blowing shit up. But he’d known what it had felt like to be loved fiercely, and love just as hard back. 

He’s always been a quiet kid. When he meets Ren for the first time, he doesn’t realize that Ren just kisses all the young men he meets, gay, straight or any point in between. For Colin, who just had a computer problem that his friend brought a friend over to help him with it, he went from having a file that hadn’t saved when it should have to having a lap full of Ren who wriggled when he kissed people.

His life changed in an instant. They run back to Ren’s room because Colin would have died before he purchased condoms at a store. Ren opened the door and wheeled his roommate out into the hall, still in his office chair. Ren was the kisser of boys, not the answerer of questions, so when the summer apart didn’t go as planned, Colin realized he wasn’t just going to be saying good bye to Ren, the man he loved but also to the first bit of colour Colin’s life had ever seen. He’d lived a lukewarm, grey life that peaked at a four. Ren lived at eleven. They had seven amazing years together.

It’s no spoiler to say that Ren died. Ren died eight years before the story starts and Colin was still in mourning. I had just lost my cat and writing from the point of grief of an otherwise amazing life gave the story colour in ways I probably couldn’t have planned. My wife found the anthology call for a main character that hated Hallowe’en on the 27th of July due on the 31st, and what came out of me was a very rough 26,000 word story that was a reverse phantom hitchhiker.

I’ll talk more about Peter the next time, but Colin and Peter in a lot of ways were the same character. They were both artists, both quiet, both a little shy. Colin had everything work out perfectly before Ren died and it took him a long time to get over it, Peter was Colin in the way fear ruled his life but Peter without finding his Ren just pushed on without his life clicking into place.

And Ren was just Ren. You don’t get too many characters like Ren in your life. He was a drag queen who got voted the Homecoming King and campaigned hard enough as the write-in candidate to be the Homecoming Queen that he swept both categories. He was voted in both un-ironically. It was chemically impossible not to love Ren, but that wasn’t saying he was the easiest to live with. As much as Colin wants to, he can’t move on unless he can look at Ren as a whole.

Other than the fact that there are ghosts in the story, up until I wrote a straight up gay cowboy story this month, it was the closest thing I got to writing non-paranormal. I still feel like there’s a very private couple in BC that I’ve just been peering in on and airing all their dirty laundry.

Peter quotes the whizzing sound deadlines made over Douglas Adam’s head. Colin shoots back that the only sound this deadline made was “splat”. I love these boys so much they make me happy to have blown life into their stories.

On the teaching of writing

I sent a query to see if there was any interest in the new arts building in Lethbridge to have a writing workshop or workshops. I signed up for a writing class at the college in my first year in Lethbridge. I was late because I had to drop off the contract to my first book, Castoffs, into a mailbox and I couldn’t find a mailbox.

The class was…less than inspiring. It was supposed to be a ‘how to write short stories and novels’ that was taught by a poet and painter. I went to three different classes, not in a row but over the course of a couple months. The instructor had the class spend the first five minutes writing about a subject, then the rest of the class was her picking people to read out what they had written and then she spent 10-15 minutes talking about the subject of the student’s work before moving onto the next person.

I saw a lot of talent in my classmates in that short five minutes of reading, but it wasn’t the focus of the class. With that style of learning, when people broke off to form their own private groups afterwards, they kept the format, minus the instructor’s comments about the subject matter. Everyone wrote for 20-30 minutes, and then everyone read what they had written.The groups actually focused in and praised the writing itself, so that was a massive improvement.

I know there were people in the group who were actually published and there were quite a lot of very nice turns of phrases, but the format just didn’t work for me. I have no idea what people did with the stuff they wrote. Most of them were working on something bigger. There’s a small problem where speaking the words conveys more information to the listener than the printed word tells the reader, but it’s just coming together and sharing a different part of the process as the kind of group I want to be involved in.

And there’s nothing wrong with that style of group is that is what people want to join. There is no wrong way to get together and write. I would really like Lethbridge’s CASA to form a group that works more with the finished product and what it was trying to say about something. We throw around “write what you know” like it’s a mantra, but it’s not just talking about your physical skills. It can go deeper into writing what you feel and know to be true deep down in your guts where it can be scary. A lot of writers come to that brink and then veer away when they could be battening down the hatches.

In my short story that I sent off for the Halloween MLR anthology, the love interest tells the main character that he would read everything he had ever wrote. He would be happy to listen to the main character plot out his ideas and he would read the first drafts of his stuff if it was written with crayon on used butcher paper.

The MC stops him there. He had no need for that level of commitment. Your first drafts aren’t for sharing. I get that my style isn’t everyone’s style and some people have a riverbed in their head that produces the world’s finest clay that is the perfect kind of clay to spin, but for me, the day I realized that my first draft was just a raw material that the finished story will emerge from. No matter how good I think I stapled the idea in, when I knew the whole of the story, I can nail that point in.

Good writing not just writing without any errors in it.

But that’s just me. There are many different ways to work clay into finished stories. But if someone can produce perfect ashtrays on their first go, chances are they aren’t looking for other methods of cutting off the vase.

From right now, I’m going to use vases instead of ashtrays in my metaphor.

Apparently I suck at estimating word lengths

My first professional sale was a 1500 word short story to an anthology about evil elves. It had a beginning, middle, end, rising action, climax, denouement and baby bunny rabbits along with a forest elf who systematically hunts down, kills, eats and uses the skin of the people he hurt to make the clothes he was going to need if he wasn’t going to fit into his forest any more. 

I was going to write a simple ghost story, marrying Halloween to Obon with a touch of phantom hitchhiker. We found the anthology call on the 27th and I finished the story today. 26k. I created Ren to do one thing, be dead. 1500 words into it, tears were streaming down my face.

I hope other people like it. Red Lettering is going to be cleaned up tonight and sent off tomorrow. Wish me luck!